Those at the visitation for former St. Augustine High School football coaching legend Otis Washington emphasized that it was a celebration.
Certainly the event, held at St. Augustine, was an outpouring of memories, lessons learned and mostly of gratitude. Washington died on May 24 at age 80. He coached the Purple Knights for 11 years, from 1969-79, compiling a 113-17-1 record with state championships in 1975, '78 and '79. Washington also served as an assistant coach at LSU and head coach at Southern University from 1981-86.
However, it was obvious that Washington meant more than his teams' accomplishments on the football field. He left a lasting impression on people.
“I never saw someone who was liked so much by the people he competed against,” said master of ceremony Ro Brown, with approximately 200 in attendance.
Easten Roth, who was the Archbishop Rummel High coach from 1971-83, said liking Washington was easy, even though the Knights were dominant in the state's best athletic district.
“I was (an assistant) coach at Jesuit, and we played them on a Saturday night at City Park,” Roth said. “I immediately became friends with Otis and (defensive coordinator) Eddie Flint. St. Aug had just come into the league, and they were under a lot of pressure to win.
“St. Aug was extremely well-coached, they had great athletes, they had discipline, and they were a typical St. Aug football team every year I coached against them. They were the same every year — very good.”
St. Augustine had just come into the Catholic League through a lawsuit. Flint was the former head coach, but from 1970-78 became the defensive coordinator for Washington, who was promoted from freshman coach.
“He was a disciplinarian, a good friend, a good mentor,” Flint said. “The most important thing he brought was manhood. He believed in what he did, he believed in what he said, and he wanted the kids to be the same way. He was just a good man. A good husband and a good friend.”
Otis Washington made winning football games look a whole lot easier than it actually was.
Manhood was a central theme among the gathering. Former center Cameron Gaston, who was among the first three African-American football players from New Orleans to play at Tulane, said the Purple Knights had many players who were from difficult areas and backgrounds.
“He instilled more than anything a determination to get it done,” Gaston said. “He felt you could always do more. You were taught to work hard for the times to come that were hard.
“He was consistently demanding. The best players were like everybody else.”
Burton Burns, a 1971 graduate of St. Augustine, is best known for being one of the top assistants and recruiters in the nation at Alabama. Washington did his student teaching under Burns' father, Winston Burns, at Booker T. Washington High.
“He supported all of us after we graduated from St. Aug,” said Burns, who also became an assistant to Washington. “Any success I've gotten in this world of coaching, I owe it to coach Wash. We were very prepared. We had the answers to the test.”
Burns said Washington put the Purple in Purple Knights. Louis Oubre, a 1980 All-American at Oklahoma who played with the Saints and Dolphins in the NFL, said Washington “was the face, the image and the backbone for St. Augustine, but when we called him, it was like a kid opening a present on Christmas Day.”
Darren Dixon, who quarterbacked St. Augustine to its state titles in '78 and '79, said Washington had principles: discipline, preparation, be on time, teamwork and attitude.
As stern and demanding as Washington was for his teams to be the best, all said he had a strong sense of humor, particularly one-liners.
There will be another visitation Saturday from 9-10:30 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2250 Main Street in Baton Rouge, followed by a mass of burial at 10:30 a.m.